The liberated lady of Asgard takes flight as we examine her convoluted past!
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown into a vast and complicated continuity-fest (sounds familiar if you’ve spent a lifetime reading the comics from which this film series derived), with tons of characters introduced in every installment beyond the main heroes and villains. Every one of them offers opportunities for additional storytelling, and sometimes Marvel even shakes things up by defying expectations or at least going in a slightly different direction than what a given character might suggest. Case in point: Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, debuting in Thor: Ragnarok on November 3!
But who is Valkyrie? Let’s take a look at the character before she makes finally appears onscreen in the MCU — you “male chauvinist pigs!”
Valkyrie is in fact Brunnhilde, a Norse warrior goddess chosen by Odin to lead the Valkyrior or “Choosers of the Slain” (there’s also a whole bunch of back story about her and Siegfried from the Volsunga Saga, but honestly, if you want that kind of detail, go read a book on Norse mythology). Ferrying the honored dead from Earth and Asgard to Valhalla, Valkyrie was angered when Earth was closed to her after Odin made a deal with the Celestials. She fell into a partnership with Amora the Enchantress, but the evil sorceress turned on Valkyrie and imprisoned her spirit in crystal.
Valkyrie was later given form via the body of wealthy socialite and avowed feminist Samantha Parrington. Parrington became the conduit for Valkyrie on several occasions, but the goddess also worked with her long-time teammates in the Defenders while in the body of Barbara Norris. When she incarnates, she usually adopts the same general look of a statuesque blonde (often with braids) in silver armor with a blue cape. Her persona is distinguished by her strength of character and keen awareness of her equality and power as a woman, which has played an important thematic part in many of her adventures over the years.
Powers and Abilities
We’ve been here before, so let’s take as read that when she’s in full Valkyrie mode, she possesses the standard superhuman/Asgardian abilities like strength, agility, general immunity and near immortality, and so on. She also has a Twilight Zone-like “Purple Testament” ability to see a glow of approaching death around someone, which makes her really fun at parties; she can even give that person a lift to the netherworld.
She is particularly accomplished with a sword, and Dragonfang is her enchanted blade; it’s said that it was actually carved from a dragon’s tooth by a sorcerer, and at one point it was also possessed by the Ancient One and Doctor Strange, who eventually restored it to Valkyrie. Valkyrie also wields an iron spear (no fancy name for that one) and rides a winged white horse named Aragorn, who is no relation to Viggo Mortensen (that we know about).
Origin and Background
Valkyrie first appeared in the Marvel Universe via Avengers #83 (December 1970) as created by writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema, but that was merely an impersonation effected by the Enchantress as she led a team of “Lady Liberators.” When Valkyrie debuted for real in Incredible Hulk #142 (August 1971), she inhabited the body of the aforementioned Samantha Parrington, and her hatred for “every male chauvinist pig” informed her approach to battling the Hulk and any other threat that came her way.
When Valkyrie joined the Defenders in Defenders #4 (February 1973), however, she was now in the body of Barbara Norris and remained in that incarnation for some time. Writer Steve Englehart added Valkyrie to the team for “texture,” but that came to a tragic end when the series wrapped up in #152 (February 1986) and the Norris Valkyrie apparently died. She got better, mainly thanks to Doctor Strange, who reunited Valkyrie’s spirit with her actual body. Her first order of business? Trap the Enchantress in crystal as payback; vengeful is the Valkyrie! In later years, she inhabited the body of another woman, Sian Bowen, joined the Secret Avengers, and played a small part in the Monsters Unleashed story arc.
Beyond the Comics
The most intriguing thing of note in Valkyrie’s big screen debut, as implied in this article’s introduction, is that Tessa Thompson – an actress of color – has been cast as a character that has up until now appeared as a blond, white woman. Besides adding another welcome note of diversity in the MCU, even if it is with a minor rather than a major role, the choice may signal a divergence from the Valkyrie as we’ve known her in the comics. In other media, she’s been voiced by a host of actresses in animated productions and games, but this will be her first big live-action appearance, and only time will tell if this Valkyrie will eventually body-hop like her comic book counterpart.
Find Arnold T. Blumberg on Twitter at @DoctoroftheDead.